Take a Load off with Safer Wheel and Tyre Handling
Most tyre and wheel safety articles concentrate on areas such as tread depths, running flat and wet road performance. Just as important to anyone managing a commercial vehicle fleet or a tyre service depot is the safe storage and handling of wheels and tyres. But while there are no specific laws for tyre businesses they are covered by the same general health and safety regulations as all other industries. These currently require that employers avoid the need for hazardous manual handling “so far as is reasonably practicable”. There is government legislation for the maximum weight that an employee can lift safely and the HSE recommends that men should not lift more than 25kg and women no more than 13kg. These guidelines are for infrequent operations and the maximum weights are reduced significantly for more frequent operations. Working outside them is likely to increase the risk of injury and alternative practices are clearly advisable. Providing employees with lifting equipment that avoids the need for manual handling is a sensible precaution to improve efficiency, prevent risk of injury and alleviate possible compensation claims.
Many fleet managers and tyre suppliers choose to install load handling equipment on their service vehicles. This often comes down to a choice between a small crane or a platform lift. Cranes are versatile and can be used to handle a range of loads with different shapes and sizes which makes them a good choice for general service engineering applications. Platform lifts are also versatile and are popular for applications where larger industrial and agricultural tyres are handled because the load can be rolled on and off the vehicle.
Cranes are often fitted to vehicles that operate off road, for example to service agricultural and construction equipment. The ability to retrieve a tyre or wheel from awkward positions, such as when the ground is uneven or the tyre is positioned away from the service vehicle, make cranes a good choice. A special attachment also allows the crane to break the bead and separate the tyre from the rim for faster servicing.
Rear and side mounted platform lifts support a wide range of tyre and wheel handling tasks. But many of the larger tyre suppliers - and increasingly, independents - now specify a special type of platform lift that is installed completely inside a 3.5 tonne van for greater security and convenience. The platform extends out of the side or rear door of the vehicle to retrieve the wheel and tyre combination so that it can be transported safely and securely inside. The top clamp holds the wheel firmly in place but when required the platform rollers allow free movement which means that it also doubles up as a regrooving stand to allow the engineer to work conveniently outside or inside the vehicle protected from the environment.
There has been a trend recently for tyre suppliers to switch from open drop-side vehicles to fully enclosed 3.5 tonne vans. This is partly in response to new legislation covering driver hours and tachographs covering larger vehicles but also to create a fully enclosed and more secure mobile workshop and load carrying space. At the same time the vans themselves have become heavier as manufacturers have added more safety features as part of their standard build. The challenge for load handling equipment manufacturers has been to supply products that offer the same performance but weigh less so that operators can continue to carry the same payloads. They have responded by engineering weight out of their products, for example by replacing steel with lightweight alloys and utilising computer aided design techniques to strip out unwanted metal. Incidentally, this also reduces the amount of metal used which has helped manufacturers to control costs and prices.
The other aspect of tyre handling is in depots. Many tyre suppliers have installed mezzanine floors to add storage capacity without using up valuable workshop floorspace. This can mean tyres and automotive components such as batteries and exhausts have to be carried up stairways or ladders which can be awkward and potentially dangerous. A more practical and safe solution is to install a hydraulic lift to eliminate the need for manual handling and enable a wider variety of items to be stored on the mezzanine for greater efficiency and utilisation of space.
Safety and efficiency in the tyre industry makes good business sense and does not need to be onerous. While there are no specific regulations covering tyre and wheel handling the HSE has produced guidance and organised a series of seminars to offer advice on best practice in conjunction with the National Tyre Distributors Association and Penny Hydraulics. This programme was designed to help tyre businesses get the best possible use out of their equipment safely and efficiently.